Today is World Arthritis Day, aiming to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and access to timely, evidence based treatment of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases.
Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) are commonly classified into inflammatory and non-inflammatory types:
Common non-inflammatory RMDs consist of degenerative spine diseases, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.
Common inflammatory RMDs consist of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, connective tissue diseases and polymyalgia rheumatica.
There are many myths surrounding these conditions and to shed some light on these, Physiotherapist Gemma has explored them further.
Myth 1: There’s only one type of arthritis
There are several types of arthritis with very different causes, symptoms and treatments. Osteoarthritis is the most common form and is our normal wear and tear as we age. This can give symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and thickening around the joint and typically affects the knees, hips or spine in people over the age of 50. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that typically starts in younger adults and cause redness, heat, swelling and pain often in the small joints of the hands and feet. There are many other forms including juvenile arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. If you are unsure about your symptoms check with your GP or physiotherapist.
Myth 2: My parents had arthritis so I will get it too
Whilst genetics do play a role in the development of arthritis, lifestyle has a much bigger influence. For example, if you are overweight, with a poor diet and a heavy occupation you may be more likely to develop arthritis than a sibling that is a healthy weight and has good strength in the muscles which help to support their joints.
Myth 3: You shouldn’t exercise if you have arthritis
It’s a common belief that if osteoarthritis is wear and tear in the joint, then further exercise will wear it out more. However, the reverse is actually true. By exercising we are mobilising the joint which helps to relieve stiffness, and we are strengthening the muscles around the joints which can help to support and offload the painful area. Low weight-bearing exercises such as cycling or swimming can be a great place to start if your joints are painful enough to limit the type of exercise you are able to do. Specialist classes such as clinical Pilates or our Active Ageing Exercise classes for older people are a perfect way to exercise with the right support and guidance.
Myth 4: Arthritis is always painful and will get worse as I get older
If you start noticing the symptoms of osteoarthritis there’s a lot of things you can do to help relieve and even abolish the pain yourself. Start simply by using a heat pack such as a hot water bottle or microwavable wheat pack to help ease stiffness and aches. Then begin gentle stretches of the affected joints, you need to do these little and often to be effective, but don’t push into pain.
Consider your diet and exercise levels, extra body weight puts a lot of extra stress and strain on our joints so shedding even a few pounds can help. A physiotherapist can give you personalised advice, hands-on treatment such as joint mobilisations, soft tissue massage, acupuncture and a tailored exercise prescription have all been shown to be effective in relieving the pain of arthritis. We see many patients who remain pain-free and active for years with these simple solutions.
Myth 5: If I have arthritis I will need a joint replacement
Joint replacement surgery is a major operation and always considered a last resort rather than a quick fix. Start by following the tips above and if you still find you are struggling with everyday activities seek advice from your GP. They will be able to organise an x-ray to assess the degree of wear and tear in your affected joint and ask you questions about the types of activities you are struggling with and if you have tried modifying lifestyle factors such as diet, weight and exercise. Remember some unaffected joints may show equal or even worse wear on x-ray but be completely asymptomatic. Therefore, there is no need to undergo the risks of surgery if it is not causing you any pain.
Myth 6: Supplements help
A lot of research has been conducted into supplements such as glucosamine and chrondroitin which are thought to help rebuild damage cartilage in arthritic joints. However, the vast amount of the research in this area is flawed or bias (i.e. research conducted on animals rather than humans, or conducted by the company’s manufacturing the product with a vested interest in positive results). The more recent unbiased research shows these supplements to be no better than a placebo. That said, some people do feel they get some benefit from supplements so consider trying them for up to 3 months to weigh up the cost versus the benefit yourself.
If you need any help or support then please do get in touch. Our team of Clinicians and range of services can really help educate and inform you about your condition and find ways for you to help live with your condition positively.